Least poor country?

Well, if you can excuse this newcomer for asking such a basic question, I was wondering…which country has the lowest poverty rate? My half-assed attempts at a web search proved useless.
Thanks in advance,


Quick, un-researched answer: One of the mid-East/Eastern oil countries. I forget which one it is exactly (Brunei?), but one of them is tiny and RICH. So rich that all citizens get free houses, college education, etc. Then again, I’d expect that any tiny modern/semi-modern country will have a good record: Lichtenstein, Monte Carlo, United Arab Emirates, etc.

I have so many thoughts going through my head that sometimes it’s hard to finish a

How about Holy See (The Vatican)? Even though the Pope and any other priests that live there have taken vows of poverty, their standard of living is better than some countries’ middle-class.

You must unlearn what you have learned. – Yoda

Try the site Worldbank Poverty Data
There is a 4 page Adobe document with all the the countries poverty rates. Includes breakdown into urban, rural etc.

Another site indicated Sweden, but that was a while back (early '90’s ?) I think it might be Finland now. The Nordic states have a fairly high level of social programs so it is most likely one of them.

I took a look at that report Funneefarmer…it is missing a bunch of the smaller countries. I guess the definition needs to be made clearer. Overall or per capita? While the nordics are near the top, I think the smaller countries are going to have a statistical advantage. I mean, in Finland I am sure that there are people living on the dole (Social Security, Gov’t assistence, etc), albeit only a small number. But how many poor people live in Monte Carlo, Brunei, The Vatican (I like that one! It might just win- but oil is not to be laughed at), etc. The answer could be none in those places. I would bet that their poorest 10% are still better than the poorest 10% of any other country.

I have so many thoughts going through my head that sometimes it’s hard to finish a

Oh, I forgot about whether citizenship matters or not. Switzerland has the highest GNP per capita (it and Japan battle it out for that one) but their stats get screwy because the have tons of resident aliens that will never become citizens.
And one last factor that should have been considered first - what do you mean by poverty? The main international definition I’ve seen is people who live on US$1 a day or less are considered to live in poverty…But their are many countries where that is not true, but there are still poor people…Again, the definition and or question need to be made clearer.

I have so many thoughts going through my head that sometimes it’s hard to finish a

I was in Desert Storm and I was told repeatedly that Bahrain, (where we went for R&R), was the wealthiest country per capita in the world. Could be wrong though.

Now that you say it, maybe it is Bahrain I’m thinking about with the free houses and stuff, not Brunei.

I have so many thoughts going through my head that sometimes it’s hard to finish a

The OP askes about poverty rather than per capita GDP. Brunei frequently comes out on top for GDP per capita, although that may change given Crown Prince Jeffery’s bizarre behaviour. Brunei would do well on poverty scales though, since the Sultan is pretty free with the oil revenue.

The issue is complicated for two reasons: GDP (or GNP) per capita is difficult to compare between countries since relative prices differ substantially and measurement problems are huge. For example, in poor countries many services are not transacted in the market, so aren’t captured in statistics. If you do a comparison across countries measuring GDP/head measures in (say)$US, this will bias results severely. Another method is a “purchasing power parity” comparison, but this has huge problems. All this pretty much relates to the idea that in some countries, you might have few dollars, but they buy you a lot. The degree to which this is true varies substantially between countries. So, just working out whose mean income per head is higher is very difficult.

Then there is poverty. In terms of income distribution, there is a variety of different measures. One is the Lorenz curve, which plots the cumulative proportion of total income across household deciles. Comparisons are made by computing the degree of skewness - the extent to which the plot varies from a 45 degree line.

It is not clear that this captures what you want to know: what if there is high income equality but the remainder live in really grinding poverty? You might want to know a Rawlsian measure - something like “how well off are the poorest 10% as compared to the median/ mean?”

Things other than current share of income are also pretty important. To a degree, poverty is a state of mind. A person may have much more than subsistence income, but still feel poor if they have no security, freedom autonomy or prospects of bettering themselves.

<<It is not clear that this captures what you want to know: what if there
is high income equality but the remainder live in really grinding

I was initially looking for which country has the least amount of people living in “really grinding poverty”, as you put it, as opposed to which country has the most wealthy people. (Does that make sense to anyone else?)


Just a comment regarding Tomcat and xploder’s comments. I, too, cannot recall if it’s Brunei or Bahrain, but it’s one of them. If you’re going to consider poverty and standards of living, you probably need to factor in that the menial work in whichever country it is (I think it is Brunei - I suppose I could research it, but, ahhh…not tonight)) is done by guest workers who undoubtably have a lower standard of living than the citizens.

Now while I can’t find the stats to back this up, and it has been a few years since I’ve heard it, but I’ve always thought that United Arab Emirates (UAE) had the highest GNP per capita and could thus be considered the “wealthiest” nation.

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.”
– Woody Allen

According to my World Bank book, the UAE had only US$17,500 GNP/per cap in 1995 (yeah, I need to get a newer book, but still). Switzerland at that time had over US$40,000 GNP/ per cap. UAE has some of the richest of the rich, but not everyone is that well off- they have 2.5 million people, 20% of which are illiterate. I hear native english speakers can get a VERY good job there easily, either teaching english or working in companies…anyone able to comment on that?

As for the “grinding poverty” issue: If you are going for what I visualize as “grinding poverty” - no food, slum conditions, high rates of disease, low life expectancy, etc…then there are actually many countries that don’t have ANY of that…then your question falls into a semantic debate that all of us are having. And depending on how you define it, it ultimately switches from looking at who’s the poorest, to who is the richest among those that do not have poverty.
That is why there are some easy ‘cheating’ answers: The Vatican, small oil- countries, etc. They do not have beggars in the streets, nor do they have slums.
I have one last country to suggest on the ‘cheating’ side: Tuvalu. Little Islands in the Pacific, about 10,000 people, and up until now real poor. BUT they have just signed a contract licensing their international two-digit code, TV, to an internet company (on the order of US$50 million to start). This will allow the company to register things like www.NBC.tv or www.theSimpsons.tv or ??? Soooooo…their poverty is going to be short-lived. Yeah, I know, its pushing it, but it is interesting to think how this will affect them- they are mostly self-sustaining and now they’re getting a lot of money. I don’t know about you, but for myself sitting on a beach in paradise with money in the bank…I’d think I was pretty rich. :wink:

I have so many thoughts going through my head that sometimes it’s hard to finish a

The answer, of course, is Sealand. Nobody at all is unemployed in Sealand, because the only people there are security guards. Judging by Sealand’s lack of interest in granting me citizenship, I must conclude that citizens of Sealand (who are mostly buisnessmen) make more than 40K/year.